According to the Belgian news outlet De Standaard, at least four cases of the P.1 variant have been detected. Two confirmed samples were detected in Brussels, one in Liège and one near Wezembeek-Oppem. The P.1 variant can re-infect people who had previously been infected with another mutation.
In eastern Belgium, a case discovered by chance in the University of Liège, because random samples have been collected from citizens. Professor Guy Baele of the Rega Institute for Medical Research (KU Leuven), confirmed that the infection was discovered in a 57-year-old man from the municipality of Seraing. According to the reports, the individual had not traveled outside Belgium. There were genetic similarities, however, with another case detected in France, which resembled the Brazilian variant.
Given that the case in eastern Belgium was discovered by chance, experts believe there could be more infections with the new variant. The implication being that similar infections could be spreading across Belgium more quickly than currently known.
One of the confirmed cases in Brussels is believed to have been connected to a person in contact with someone who visited Brazil at the end of 2020. “It’s likely that the person was infected that way,” said the head of the Brussels health inspection, Inge Neven to De Standaard. Neven added that a possible fifth case of the mutation in Brussels is currently being investigated.
Amid the appearance of these new cases, Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst has put forward the idea of ‘hotel quarantines’ for travelers. “Non-essential travel is already prohibited in Belgium,” Van Ranst said. “But you can still find excuses to travel to those countries. We have strict measures, but the gaps are still big.”
According to Van Ranst, travelers arriving from Brazil or Portugal ought to be put in hotel quarantine to make sure they do not infect others, specially with the Brazilian variant.
This goes in line with the decision taken by authorities in the UK on Monday February 15th, which dictates that UK citizens returning to the UK from one of the 33 countries on the red list (including South Africa, Brazil, Portugal, among others) would have to spend ten days in quarantine in a hotel. The estimated average cost of £1,750 (about €2,000) would have to be covered by the travelers themselves.
The new variants has raised many questions across the scientific community because it seems like people who have developed antibodies can be infected again. The effects of the vaccines on these new variants have not been clearly documented yet.